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May 4, 2008

G.R. No. L-51806, November 8, 1988

  • TORTS: What constitutes "Negligence"; "Contributory Negligence" defined


Ernest E. Simke, a naturalized Filipino citizen, was Honorary Consul General of Israel in the Philippines. He went to Manila International Airport to meet his future son-in-law. As the plane was landing, he and his companions went to the viewing deck to watch the arrival of the plane. While walking, Simke slipped on an elevation 4 inches high and fell on his back, breaking his thigh bone in the process. He underwent a 3-hour operation and after recovery he filed a claim for damages against the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which was the government entity in charge of the airport.


  • Whether or not CAA was negligent


CAA contended that the elevation in question "had a legitimate purpose for being on the terrace and was never intended to trip down people and injure them. It was there for no other purpose but to drain water on the floor area of the terrace."

But upon ocular inspection by the trial court, it was found that the terrace was in poor condition. Under RA 776, the CAA is charged with the duty of planning, designing, constructing, equipping, expanding, maintenance...etc. of the Manila International Airport.

Responsibility of CAA

The SC held that pursuant to Art. 1173, "the fault or negligence of the obligor consists in the omission of that diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the person, of the time, and of the place." Here, the obligation of the CAA in maintaining the viewing deck, a facility open to the public, requires that CAA insure the safety of the viewers using it. As these people come to look to where the planes and the incoming passengers are and not to look down on the floor or pavement of the viewing deck, the CAA should have thus made sure that no dangerous obstructions or elevations exist on the floor of the deck to prevent any undue harm to the public.

Contributory Negligence

Under Art. 2179, contributory negligence contemplates a negligent act or omission on the part of the plaintiff, which although not the proximate cause of his injury, CONTRIBUTED to his own damage. The Court found no contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, considering the following test formulated in the early case of Picart v. Smith, 37 Phil. 809 (1918):

The test by which to determine the existence of negligence in a particular case may be stated as follows: Did the defendant in doing the alleged negligent act use that reasonable care and caution which an ordinarily prudent man would have used in the same situation? If not, then he is guilty of negligence. The law here in effect adopts the standard supposed to be supplied by the imaginary conduct of the discreet paterfamilias of the Roman law. The existence of the negligence in a given case is not determined by reference to the personal judgment of the actor in the situation before him. The law considers what would be reckless, blameworthy, or negligent in the man of ordinary intelligence and prudence and determines liability by that.

The question as to what would constitute the conduct of a prudent man in a given situation must of course be always determined in the light of human experience and in view of the facts involved in the particular case. Abstract speculations cannot be here of much value but this much can be profitably said: Reasonable men-overn their conduct by the circumstances which are before them or known to them. They are not, and are not supposed to be omniscient of the future. Hence they can be expected to take care only when there is something before them to suggest or warn of danger. Could a prudent man, in the case under consideration, foresee harm as a result of the course actually pursued' If so, it was the duty of the actor to take precautions to guard against that harm. Reasonable foresight of harm, followed by the ignoring of the suggestion born of this prevision, is always necessary before negligence can be held to exist.... [Picart v. Smith, supra, p. 813]

The private respondent, who was the plaintiff in the case before the lower court, could not have reasonably foreseen the harm that would befall him, considering the attendant factual circumstances. Even if the private respondent had been looking where he was going, the step in question could not easily be noticed because of its construction.

"WHEREFORE, finding no reversible error, the Petition for review on certiorari is DENIED and the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 51172-R is AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED."


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